How to make a living (by living your best life!)

In her inspirational first book, Make a living living, travel writer Nina Karnikowski shares the inspiring stories, challenges and actionable tips of those who have taken the leap, dived in deep and discovered a whole new way of living – and being! – by doing what they love

 

Make a living by Nina Karnikowski

With insightful interviews with 26 creatives from around the world, and DIY practices to feed your creative fire, Make a Living Living is a guide to crafting a more fulfilling life, finding more pleasure in the simple things, cultivating inspiring relationships and building a successful, purpose-driven career. Here, Nina shares the journeys of three Australians who are living their dream… 

Emica Penklis – The chocolatier on having a purpose

Make a living by Nina Karnikowski

For 35-year-old Emica Penklis, chasing her dream of creating a handcrafted, organic chocolate company that actually enhances the consumer’s wellbeing hasn’t been an easy road. But take a peek inside her life today, running her thriving business Loco Love in beautiful Byron Bay, and you’ll realise that any struggles have been well worth it.

Since starting Loco Love using a $1000 tax rebate in 2013, Emica has funnelled both the knowledge of health and the human body she learned from studying naturopathy for three-and-a-half years, and almost every cent earned working part-time jobs, into building her business. She has taught herself everything she knows – from how to actually make chocolate that’s vegan, gluten- and refined sugar-free using superfoods and tonic herbs, to creating invoices and doing accounts, learning about marketing, designing a commercial kitchen, creating packaging, managing staff and more. Along the way there have been machinery breakdowns, suppliers going bankrupt, copycat companies and customers baulking at the idea of ‘healthy’ chocolate that comes with a higher price tag. 

Make a living by Nina Karnikowski

Societal doubt about following a non-traditional path is something else Emica has had to contend with. “When I started Loco Love, my partner at the time often ridiculed the idea, especially when it came to it delivering financially. Friends and family were supportive, but everyone was shocked I could actually make a living making chocolate,” says Emica. “Still today, as much as I don’t like to admit this, being a young and relatively inexperienced woman in business means people often don’t take you seriously until you prove you’re professional by being reliable and consistent in every aspect of the business.”

The huge highs have made up for all of this, though: building her own chocolate factory in Byron Bay, which she now runs with her husband, being featured in Vogue magazine and, the biggest one of all, making a living doing what she loves. She works with her hands as she’d fantasised about doing since she was a kid, can work to her own timeline, is surrounded by a community of inspiring business owners and is able to live by the ocean, in her favourite part of the world.

“I spent so many years not understanding or accepting the society we live in. We work in jobs we hate, for money to buy things we don’t need, and everyone’s walking around complaining all the time,” says Emica. “Finally, it dawned on me that it’s only by being the most authentic, inspired, love-filled version of yourself that you can help change the world, and that idea has become a big part of my company’s ethos.”

If there’s one thing we can learn from Emica, then, it’s this. Following your heart and building your dream life – where you write your own rules and are free from societal strictures – won’t mean your life will be free of struggle. But because you’re doing something you love, and are living a life filled with purpose, that struggle will be completely worthwhile. 

Angus McDiarmid – The potter on

continually learning

Make a living by Nina Karnikowski

Step inside the handmade bush home of Australian potter Angus McDiarmid of Pan Pottery and you would assume he has half a dozen skilled trades under his belt.

Except that aside from pottery, he doesn’t. The effervescent 31-year-old taught himself everything he needed to know to turn a shack into a pottery studio, gallery and home for himself, his wife Bridget and their one-year-old son. Through meeting timber workers in his community and asking them loads of questions, Angus learned to make the furniture, cupboards, decking and doors out of local wood, to craft the lights, tiles and kitchen sink from terracotta, and to do all the plumbing and electrical wiring himself. “People tell themselves they can only be one thing, but the joy of life lies in learning new things,” he says.

Angus’s search for a more creative life began in 2011 when, after quitting his commerce and arts degree, he embarked on a nine-month cycling trip through South America, then travelled to India.

“I remember drinking chai from a clay cup in Himachal Pradesh one day and asking, ‘Where are these made?’ I was told there was a pottery village nearby so I went straight there, and ended up doing a six-month pottery course there,” he explains.

When he returned to Australia, Angus Googled wood-fired potters, found a nearby studio and simply turned up. 

 “I was like, ‘Hi, I want to be a potter!’ The owner handed me a book about the chemical components of glazing and told me to come back in a week. I studied every page, and ended up staying with that studio for two years.”

Angus is now Australia’s youngest wood-fired potter. He works completely without electricity in his outdoor home studio, which sits next to his small gallery space.

Make a living by Nina Karnikowski

This means he can make more sales directly from home and online, which translates to more income per piece, since he’s not paying the standard 30 to 50 per cent commission usually taken by stores.

He makes his pieces from blended local clay that he digs himself and shapes on kick wheels, and fires his hand-built kiln with local wood that he splits by hand.

Although he loves the raw, handmade aspects of wood-firing, he admits it comes with risks. Numerous times, Angus has unpacked his kiln after spending eight to 10 weeks making, only to discover that $15,000 worth of product has completely shattered, owing partially to the volatility of the local clay he uses. The work can also become mentally and physically taxing, with Angus often creating 100 pieces a day to ensure the mortgage gets paid.

Mostly, however, Angus finds great joy and peace in his work.

“I spend more time with kangaroos and chickens than I do with humans. I make pots all day long while listening to music, and time just disappears.”

Amanda Callan and Andrew Morris – 

The soap and sauce makers on putting lifestyle first

Make a living by Nina Karnikowski

When Amanda Callan and Andrew Morris first saw the old country church they now call home in Bilinudgel in Northern NSW, they knew it had to be theirs.

Never mind that it didn’t have a kitchen or bedrooms, was set on a floodplain in a country town where they knew no one, or that neither of them had full-time work. Oh, and that Amanda was pregnant with their first child. “It was just so beautiful, we decided then and there that we’d do everything we could to build a life here,” says Amanda.

Being on a floodplain, the property was cheap, and the couple said yes to any work that would pay the bills. 

“We weren’t picky,” says Amanda, who did bookkeeping for local farmers’ markets while Andrew, a guitarist, did odd gigs, made food products and gardened to make ends meet.

For extra cash, Amanda, who was studying naturopathy at the time, started making natural soap and selling it in a roadside stall in front of their church. Local shops soon started stocking the soaps and little by little, as the couple slowly renovated their church by hand, their business evolved, with Andrew soon making condiments and pickles to add to their offering.

Make a living by Nina Karnikowski

“We started making our products simply because we loved doing it, and the business grew from there,” says Andrew of their business, Church Farm General Store. “We now spend our days doing things we actually like doing. It makes us feel good, we’re not harming the environment, and we have a good amount of free time.”

The couple have created a passive income source through a rental apartment they built in their garden, and have purposefully kept Church Farm General Store small, selling mainly at farmers’ markets and local stores, as well as running soap-making workshops. This way, they have plenty of time to spend with their four young kids, to surf every day, garden in their vegetable patches and take trips in their vintage caravan, Chrissy the Caravan.

“We could make the business bigger if we worked harder, but we like the way it is now, so we’re not working on it all day, every day,” says Amanda. “We love our business, but we also love our kids and just hanging out.”

Make a living by Nina Karnikowski

For more inspiration, pick up a copy of Make a Living Living by Nina Karnikowski ($29.99, Laurence King Publishing) available at thamesandhudson.com.au 

And be sure to follow Nina Karnikowski’s wild, transformative journeys on Instagram @travelswithnina or online at travelswithnina.com (you’ll be so glad you did!). 

Photography: Peter Windrim (Instagram: @ptrfto)